Eminent domain jitters are beginning to affect the residents of southeast Texas who are apprehensive about the government’s proposed Coastal Spine project. The Coastal Spine, also referred to as the Coastal Barrier, is a proposed system of sea gates and levees that will span 71 miles in length according to the most recent designs.
The system would begin on the high ground north of High Island and will span the entire length of the Bolivar Peninsula. From there, it would bisect the entrance of the Galveston Bay and continue along the entire length of Galveston Island where it would merge with the Galveston seawall. Current plans have the system terminating at the San Luis Pass.
The cost of the project is estimated to be between $23 billion and $31 billion. The estimate purportedly includes the cost for environmental repairs, but critically, does not include the appraisal value of the land that the state would likely have to acquire to build the project.
The Texas General Land Office (“GLO”) is tasked with acquiring the land necessary to construct the Coastal Spine. The GLO has stated that right of entry easements could be a partial solution to avoiding eminent domain, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“Army Corps”) has stated a preference for landowner buyouts. The Army Corps is optimistic that landowners will willingly sell their land for the project but confirmed that eminent domain will be used if necessary.
The Army Corps is leading the design effort and recently held a public meeting at its Galveston district office with the GLO in an effort to persuade landowners that the use of eminent domain is a last resort. The GLO and the Army Corps will serve as joint project managers. The Army Corps has stated that the final alignment for the coastal barrier has not yet been decided, though a draft plan was released on October 26.
Currently, the project is in a 75-day public comment period, an attempt by the project managers to solicit public feedback. Both the GLO and the Army Corps have expressed a desire to minimize the economic and environmental impact of the proposed construction.
Residents of affected areas are worried about the impact that the project will have on their homes and businesses.There is substantial landowner concern that the state and federal governments may subject them to the forced seizure of their land via the power of eminent domain.
Though the GLO and the Army Corps are both open to public feedback, they played down the suggestion that public opposition would scrap the plan altogether. Nevertheless, they have hinted at an alternative for the coastal spine currently referred to as the“bay rim” construction. The bay rim project is thought to be less ambitious. It would add sea gates at San Jacinto, passing through West Galveston Bay, and terminate at the Texas City Dike. This plan, with current estimates placing its cost between $18 billion and $23 billion, would be a slightly cheaper alternative to the Coastal Spine. However, the coastal spine is thought to have a superior cost to benefit ratio and is preferred for that reason.
Ultimately, funding questions will have to be decided by Congress. Current thinking sees a 65/35 split between federal and state funding. The state would also be responsible for facilitating operations and maintenance through the GLO. Should the project receive funding, current estimates project a 2-5 year design phase, and a 10-15 year construction phase.